Burlington, Vt – As Burlington struggles with an opioid epidemic, the city’s fire department is rolling out teams to respond to suspected drug overdoses.

The six-month pilot program will have one staff-owned vehicle with two Burlington Fire Department employees. The program will rely primarily on existing equipment and current employees, and staffing will be voluntary.

Burlington Fire Chief Michael Lachance says the idea for this program was brought to him by his employees, out of a desire to feel like they’re making a real difference.

“We’re on the front lines of this every day. Your responders are responding every day to overdoses, calls for unresponsive folks, and everything else that you call 9-11 for,” says Lachance.

The department says the program goal is to decrease reliance on traditional front-line emergency workers to respond to overdose calls, keeping them available for other incidents and community engagement activities.

In addition to providing emergency life-saving services, the response team plans to act as a bridge to connect people to other, long-term services in the area.

“What this team is going to be trying to do is: Yes, get that primary level of care out there so that people are surviving their overdose, but also getting them to a more appropriate level of care. Maybe it’s not the emergency department, maybe its one of our community outreach services,” says Lachance.

The pilot program is set to run for six months and will be paid for with City Opioid Settlement Funds. At the end of the trial period, the Burlington Fire Department, through data collection, will determine if the program will become permanent.